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Biomarkers as tracers for life on early earth and MarsBiomarkers in geological samples are products derived from biochemical (natural product) precursors by reductive and oxidative processes (e.g., cholestanes from cholesterol). Generally, lipids, pigments and biomembranes are preserved best over longer geological times and labile compounds such as amino acids, sugars, etc. are useful biomarkers for recent times. Thus, the detailed characterization of biomarker compositions permits the assessment of the major contributing species of extinct and/or extant life. In the case of the early Earth, work has progressed to elucidate molecular structure and carbon isotropic signals preserved in ancient sedimentary rocks. In addition, the combination of bacterial biochemistry with the organic geochemistry of contemporary and ancient hydrothermal ecosystems permits the modeling of the nature, behavior and preservation potential of primitive microbial communities. This approach uses combined molecular and isotopic analyses to characterize lipids produced by cultured bacteria (representative of ancient strains) and to test a variety of culture conditions which affect their biosynthesis. On considering Mars, the biomarkers from lipids and biopolymers would be expected to be preserved best if life flourished there during its early history (3.5-4 x 10(9) yr ago). Both oxidized and reduced products would be expected. This is based on the inferred occurrence of hydrothermal activity during that time with the concomitant preservation of biochemically-derived organic matter. Both known biomarkers (i.e., as elucidated for early terrestrial samples and for primitive terrestrial microbiota) and novel, potentially unknown compounds should be characterized.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Simoneit, B. R. (College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University Corvallis 97331, United States)
Summons, R. E.
Jahnke, L. L.
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
October 1, 1998
Publication Information
Publication: Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere : the journal of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life
Volume: 28
Issue: 4-6
ISSN: 0169-6149
Subject Category
Distribution Limits
Non-NASA Center
NASA Discipline Exobiology